5G will move us from smartphones to smart glasses

Telecom companies tend to talk about second-generation (2G), 3G, 4G and now 5G in terms of network capability. This make sense as telecom operators are the builders and operators of the network infrastructure.

But for consumers, the mobile phone, or “terminal device,” is what they relate to ― and of course the two are require each other.

Historically, the 2G era is best represented by Nokia’s six different “Xpress-on” colors phones. The key feature of the Nokia product is that its battery operated for days on a single charge yet the phone was only capable of a data transfer rate of 9.6 kilobits per second (Kbps ― thousands of bits per second).

The 3G networks are best remembered for the launch of Apple iPhone. Launched in June 2007, it featured the most innovative touch-screen technology of the time and was marketed as being capable of download speeds ranging between 700 kbps to 1.7 megabits per second (Mbps) on AT&T’s 3G network.

4G was all about screen size. Data speeds which supported high-definition (HD) video streaming enabled smartphones to evolve into personal media devices. Google’s Android-powered phone came to dominate, and screen sizes jumped from 3.5 inches (the size of the first iPhone) to 6.5 inches for leading phones today. High-end mobile devices today can, under the best conditions, achieve download speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second (Gbps). Normal 4G download speeds average between 10-40 Mbps.

“The 4G decade also saw Nokia, the once dominant leader in handsets, suffer the indignation of first having to adopt Android as an operating system, then being sold to Microsoft, only to be shut down 22 months later. The business is cutthroat … either innovate and differentiate or die. They failed in the transition to touch,” Chris Lane, the lead writer of a 12-page analysis issued by Bernstein Research, said.

Focus is now on 5G and how it will impact the industry.

In addition to faster data speeds, which have evolved through previous network iterations, 5G will bring a 10x improvement in “theoretical latency.” This is important for vehicle-to-vehicle communication, industrial automation and remote control of precision equipment.

“From a customer perspective, the most often quoted use cases are augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) as 5G will transform the basic interface from looking down at the screen to looking up at the world around,” according to Lane. The writer also focused on the developments and enhancements of AR technology.

As Lane said, while the 5G network can support both AR and VR, it’s AR which is set to profoundly change the way consumers view the world. Both Apple and Google have been introducing AR features to their smartphone operating systems. AR measurement apps, virtual AR games including Pokemon Go and lots of design apps already exist.

5G networks data delivery will enable the rendering of virtual images in front of users’ eyes using a heads-up display (HUD). Lane suggests that in ordinary circumstances, the virtual image-based heads up display, which requires massive amounts of data, will make both walking and driving much faster.

Given the variety of features and enhancements 5G technology has, major technology companies and startups alike are jumping all over the new technology dubbed “5G with smart glasses.”

The global AR smart glasses market ecosystem was valued at some $440 million in 2018 and is expected to see “significant growth” to $2.7 billion by 2027 because AR has already captured the attention of top tech companies, despite it being true that the market is in its early stages of development. Only “big names” such as Microsoft, Google, Apple, Snap, Facebook and Samsung as well as Amazon are working on advanced AR glasses, according to officials and analysts.

While we may hear often in the media these days, “The smartphone is dead; Long live smart glasses,” it still seems there is a long way to go to the commercialization of VR-AR glasses in consumer markets as Google and Microsoft are more active in the “enterprise market.”

U.S. telecom chip giant Qualcomm and 15 operator groups including China Mobile, China Telecom, NTT DoCoMo, KT, LG Uplus, SK Telecom, SoftBank, Verizon, Vodafone T-Mobile and others have thrown their weight behind “smart glasses” by announcing that they will work on making “5G XR” viewers available at both the consumer and enterprise level “within the next year.” Apple is reportedly working on a pair of “AR 5G” glasses that look like regular spectacles.